Fort Lauderdale Strikers head coach Gunter Kronsteiner may or may not be back with the club for the 2015 season, but that isn't stopping him from talking up the club and the NASL. Matthew Levine had the following quotes earlier in the week, in which he questioned whether or not MLS was still the top domestic league in the U.S.
"I personally believe that MLS is no stronger than our league. That’s my personal opinion, don’t take it as a wrong statement from me. We played one or two of these teams in the offseason and we succeeded against them, so I personally believe this league is stronger, or at least as strong, as MLS."
On the surface, it's easy to laugh these comments off as nothing but a coach saying kind things about the league in which he makes his living. It's clear to anyone who has watched NASL games regularly this season that the league improved dramatically in 2014, but has it really made up a sizable talent gap in just a single season?
In my opinion, it hasn't, and it's not particularly close. There are a handful of teams whose starting elevens I believe would do well in MLS. When healthy, the Cosmos, Minnesota United, San Antonio, Fort Lauderdale, and probably even Carolina would likely hold their own at that level. I'd actually be surprised if the first three of those clubs wouldn't be hunting for playoff places, assuming of course that they could keep their squads healthy enough that depth never became an issue.
Frankly though, these few clubs are probably the only ones with the talent in their first eleven to stay above the bottom of the table. The bulk of the NASL lags considerably behind in terms of overall talent, and even the elite clubs are lacking enough depth that success in MLS would be awfully hard to imagine. That doesn't look to be a problem that will be resolved anytime soon, either, as at the moment, NASL clubs just don't make the money required to build that sort of depth.
It's nice to hear Kronsteiner talking up the NASL, as American fans who haven't been paying attention probably don't realize that the quality is at the level it currently is. There's a lot of work yet to be done before the league, as a whole, starts seriously comparing itself to MLS. However, with a possible MLS-sized mess involving the expired CBA, 2015 could be a year in which the NASL makes up some of that ground.